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Hildegard of Bingen

11th century German abbess who had a passionate and possessive friendship with a female protegee. She was a prominent author and composer.

LHMP entry

Because monasticism is assumed to preclude sex, historians often work to desexualize passionate language used by medieval monastic writers, for example, in the context of writing about friendship. Language and actions that could be interpreted erotically are depicted as purely conventional, for example, possible interpretations of kissing on the mouth.

Mills asks (rhetorically) why medievalists rarely discuss transgender frameworks of interpretation, given that medieval people had much clearer ideas about that topic than anything that might be called “sexuality.” Moral polemics focused less on sex acts themselves, than on disruptions of gender, in particular those that violated the strict binary contrast of “male = active, female = passive.” Androgynous (or intersex) persons were recognized as existing, but were required to choose a consistent binary gender identity (or celibacy).

Schibanoff’s article explores the close emotional relations between 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis of Stade, a younger noblewoman who became a nun under her. Their relationship led to conflict when Richardis left to become abbess at a different institution and Hildegard went to great lengths to try to arrange for her return.

The general topic of this article is the use of music and musical imagery in the experience and expression of religious devotion, particularly as an embodied experience. The starting point for the thesis is the establishment of a rhetoric of embodied sensual experience of “divine music” both as a metaphor and as literal sensory perception. The author states: “I will explore just a few of the many ways in which Hildegard’s musical compositions exemplify her own conceptions of body--particularly the female body--and its central role in religious devotion.

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